DENVER (Reuters) - Authorities on Tuesday arrested a recently paroled bank robber suspected of planting a bomb at a crowded shopping mall near Columbine High School last week on the 12th anniversary of the school massacre.
Earl Moore, 65, was taken into custody by police in Boulder, Colorado, where he was spotted inside a grocery store by an alert shopper, who presumably recognized him from photos released by the FBI and then called emergency 911.
Although authorities said they remained puzzled as to a motive in the case, Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink ruled out any link between Moore and the 1999 Columbine shooting rampage that left 15 people dead.
Moore is suspected of placing a pipe bomb near two propane tanks at the Southwest Plaza mall in suburban Denver on April 20, then slipping away before firefighters responding to a small fire at the retail complex discovered the device.
The mall, occupied by an estimated 10,000 shoppers and employees at the time, was evacuated as a precaution. But the bomb did not go off, and no one was hurt.
Authorities initially said their concern over the incident was heightened by the fact it occurred a mile from Columbine, on the 12th anniversary of the massacre there and involved a makeshift bomb similar to devices brought to school in 1999 by the two Columbine assailants, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
The two heavily armed teenagers fatally shot 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves in what was then the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
The FBI previously said it had no evidence linking the massacre to Moore. Mink said at a news conference on Tuesday there was “absolutely no connection” between the shopping mall incident and Columbine or other schools in the area.
Moore has made no statements to investigators, and there was “no motive discussed to us,” FBI spokesman Dave Joly said.
Moore’s arrest ended a manhunt in which the FBI released a series of photos and video of him taken by surveillance cameras, as well as booking photos from a prior arrest.
Initially described by the FBI as a “person of interest” in the investigation, Moore was labeled a suspect on Sunday.
It was revealed then that he had been paroled from federal prison on April 13, just seven days before the shopping mall incident, after serving several years for his conviction in the 2005 robbery of a West Virginia bank.
The FBI announced his arrest by police Tuesday in Boulder, about 25 miles northwest of the shopping mall. He is expected to make his first court appearance in U.S. District Court in Denver on Wednesday.
Boulder police said Moore was spotted at a cafe inside a King Soopers grocery store by a customer who alerted the store manager and then called 911.
As police arrived, Moore left the store but was confronted by additional police who pulled up in a squad car. He was ordered to the ground in the parking lot and taken into custody without further incident, police said.
Joly said Moore, who was not armed when arrested, was then turned over to federal custody.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofksy; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton